4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Olivia De Havilland Edition


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

Today, I’m thrilled to wish a happy birthday to two of my favorite people!

First off, let’s all wish a happy birthday to Patrick Smith!  Along with being a contributor here on the Shattered Lens, Patrick is also a Snarkalec in good standing and one of the founders of the Late Night Movie Gang!  I’ve been happy to call Patrick a friend for several years now and I’m thankful to have him as part of a team here on the Shattered Lens!  Happy birthday, Pat!

Also born on this day was the one and only Olivia de Havilland.  Olivia is 104 years old today, one of the last remaining stars of Hollywood’s golden age.  Olivia de Havilland, whose career spanned 53 years and who co-starred with everyone from Errol Flynn to James Stewart to Michael Caine, currently lives in Paris and I can’t wait to celebrate her 105th birthday next year.

In honor of a legendary career and life, here are….

4 Shots From 4 Films

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938, dir by Michael Curtiz)

Gone With The Wind (1939, dir by Victor Fleming)

The Snake Pit (1948, dir by Anatole Litvak)

The Swarm (1978, dir by Irwin Allen)

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: The Snake Pit (dir by Anatole Litvak)


The 1948 film, The Snake Pit, tells the story of a writer named Virginia Cunningham.

Virginia (Olivia de Havilland) is a patient at the Juniper Hill State Hospital, a psychiatric hospital that only treats female patients.  Some days, Virginia knows where she is and some days, she doesn’t.  Some days, she knows who she is and other days, she doesn’t.  Sometimes, she hears voices and other times, the silence in her head is her only companion.  Sometimes, she’s paranoid and other times, she’s quite lucid.

Virginia has been admitted against her will.  Her husband, Robert (Mark Stevens), visits frequently and sometimes, she knows him and sometimes, she doesn’t.  Through flashbacks, we see how Virginia and Robert first met.  Robert worked at a publishing house.  Virginia was a writer whose work kept getting rejected.  Robert and Virginia fell almost immediately in love but Virginia always refused to consider marrying him.  In fact, she even disappeared at one point, because things were getting too serious.  However, one day, Virginia suddenly declared that she wanted to get married.  Afterwards, her behavior became more and more erratic.

In the hospital, Virginia is treated by Dr. Kik (Leo Genn), who is depicted as being a compassionate and progressive psychiatrist, even as he puts Virginia through electroshock treatment.  (Remember, this film was made in 1948.)  With Dr. Kik’s guidance, Virginia starts to piece her life together and get to the cause of nervous breakdown.  Unfortunately, it often seems like every step forward leads to two steps back and Virginia still reacts to every bit of pressure by acting out, even biting one unhelpful doctor.

The hospital is divided into levels.  With each bit of progress that a patient makes, she’s allowed to move to a new level that allows her just a bit more freedom.  Everyone’s goal is to make it to the final level, Level One.  Unfortunately, Level One is run by Nurse Davis (Helen Craig), a tyrant who is in love with Dr. Kik and jealous of the amount of time he spends on Virginia.  Davis starts to goad Helen, trying to get her to lose control.  And what happens if you lose control?  You end up in the Snake Pit, the dreaded Level 33.  Being sent to Level 33 means being abandoned in a padded cell, surrounded by patients who have been deemed untreatable.

At the time that it was released, The Snake Pit was a groundbreaking film, the first major American studio production to deal seriously and sympathetically with mental illness.  Seen today, it’s still effective but you can’t help but cringe at some of the techniques that are used in Virginia’s treatment.  (Electroshock treatment, for instance, is portrayed as being frightening but ultimately necessary.)  The film works best as a showcase for Olivia de Havilland, who gives an absolutely brilliant and empathetic performance as Virginia.  Neither the film not de Havilland shies away from the reality of Virginia’s condition nor does it make the mistake of sentimentalizing her story.  For me, de Havilland’s best moment comes when she learns that she bit another doctor.  At first, she’s horrified but then she starts to laugh because the doctor in question was such a pompous ass that he undoubtedly deserved it.  de Havilland handles the character’s frequent transitions from lucidity to confusion with great skill, without indulging in the temptation to go over-the-top.  Arguably, The Snake Pit features de Havilland’s best lead performance.

(Olivia de Havilland is, at 103 years old, still with us and living, reportedly quite happily, in France.)

Olivia de Havilland was nominated for Best Actress but she lost to Jane Wyman in Johnny Belinda.  (A year later, De Havilland’s won an Oscar for The Heiress.)  The Snake Pit was also nominated for Best Picture but ultimately lost to Laurence Olivier’s adaptation of Hamlet.

A Movie A Day #155: Out of the Fog (1941, directed by Anatole Litvak)


When two aging fishermen (Thomas Mitchell and John Qualen) attempt to buy a new boat, they run into a problem with local mobster, Harold Goff (John Garfield).  As Goff explains, if they do not pay him $5.00 a week, something bad could happen to their boat.  When one of the fisherman’s daughter (Ida Lupino) falls in love with Goff, she makes the mistake of letting him know that her father is planning on giving her $190 so that she can take a trip to Cuba.  When Goff demands the money for himself, the fishermen attempt to go to the police, just to be told that there is nothing that the authorities can do.  Goff tricked them into signing an “insurance” contract that allows him to demand whatever he wants.  The two fishermen are forced to consider taking drastic measures on their own.  Out of the Fog is an effective, early film noir, distinguished mostly be John Garfield’s sinister performance as Harold Goff.

Out of the Fog is also memorable as an example of how Hollywood dealt with adapting work with political content during the production code era.  Out of the Fog was based on The Gentle People, a play by Irwin Shaw.  In the play, which was staged by The Group Theater in 1939, Harold Goff was obviously meant to be a symbol of both European fascism and American capitalism.  In the play, the two fisherman had Jewish names and were meant to symbolize those being persecuted by the Third Reich and its allies.  In the transition for stage to film, Jonah Goodman became Jonah Goodwin and he was played by the very talented but definitely not Jewish Thomas Mitchell.   The play ended with Harold triumphant and apparently unstoppable.  Under the production code, all criminals had to be punished, which meant the ending had to be changed.  Out of the Fog is an effective 1940s crime thriller but, without any political subtext, it lacks the play’s bight.

One final note: while Out of the Fog had a good cast, with up and comer John Garfield squaring against old vets Thomas Mitchell and John Qualen, the original Broadway play’s cast was also distinguished.  Along with contemporary film stars Sylvia Sidney and Franchot Tone, the play’s cast was a who’s who of actors and directors who would go on to be prominent in the 1950 and 60s: Lee J. Cobb, Sam Jaffe, Karl Malden, Martin Ritt, and Elia Kazan all had roles.

 

Cleaning Out The DVR, Again #37: All This And Heaven Too (dir by Anatole Litvak)


(Lisa is currently in the process of trying to clean out her DVR by watching and reviewing all 40 of the movies that she recorded from the start of March to the end of June.  She’s trying to get it all done by the end of July 11th!  Will she make it!?  Keep visiting the site to find out!)

All_this_heaven_movieposter

The 37th film on my DVR was the 1940 film, All This, And Heaven Too.  It originally aired on June 21st on TCM.

All This, and Heaven Too is one of the many melodramatic historical romances in which Bette Davis appeared in the late 30s and early 40s.  These films usually featured Bette as a strong-willed woman who was often condemned for not conforming to the rules of society.  Typically, she would end up falling in love with a man who society said she could not have.  Bette almost always seemed to end up alone, which I guess was the way women who thought for themselves were punished back then.

In this one, Bette plays Henriette Deluzy, a French woman who ends up in America in the 1850s.  When she shows up to start teaching at a private, all-girls school, her students immediately start gossiping about her.  It seems that Henriette was at the center of some sort of European scandal and everyone is speculating about what happened.  Finally, at the start of class, Henriette tells her students that she’s going to tell them the true story of what happened back in France.

It turns out that Henriette was a governess.  She took care of the four children of the Duc de Praslin (Charles Boyer) and his wife, the Duchesse (Barbara O’Neil).  The Duchesse was mentally unstable and soon came to suspect that her husband had fallen in love with Henriette.  Though she may have been insane, it turned out that the Duchesse was correct.  When the Duchesse fired Henriette and then lied to her husband about it, the Duc flew into a rage and murdered his wife.

Under the laws of the time, the Duc could only be judged by his fellow noblemen.  He was told that if he simply confessed and said that Henriette was the one who drove him to commit the murder, he would be set free.  (As opposed to the characters that Bette Davis played in The Letter and The Little Foxes, Henriette was totally innocent.)  Would the Duc confess and allow Henriette to be blamed or would he deny his love for her and sacrifice his life as a result?

All This, And Heaven Too is a rather slow movie and it’s hard not to be disappointed that Henriette is such a boring character.  She’s so innocent and victimized that the role almost seems like a waste of Bette Davis’s talents.  A big production that featured lavish (though black-and-white) recreations of 19th Century France, All This, And Heaven Too was probably a big deal for contemporary audiences and, if you’re a Bette Davis or Charles Boyer completist, you might enjoy it.  But otherwise, it’s really nothing special.

All This, And Heaven Too was among the 10 films nominated for Best Picture of 1940.  However, it lost to Rebecca.

Cleaning Out The DVR, Again #14: Decision Before Dawn (dir by Anatole Litvak)


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So, I’m currently in the process of cleaning out my DVR by watching the 40 films that I recorded from March to June of this year.  Yesterday, I watched the 14th film on my DVR, the 1951 film Decision Before Dawn.  

Decision Before Dawn aired on April 9th on FXM and I specifically recorded it because it was nominated for best picture.  It only received one other nomination (for editing) and it’s one of those nominees that often seems to be dismissed by Oscar historians.  Whenever Decision Before Dawn is mentioned, it’s usually because it’s being unfavorably compared to the other nominees: A Place In The Sun, A Streetcar Named Desire, and An American In Paris.  I went into Decision Before Dawn with very low expectations but you know what?

Decision Before Dawn is not a bad film.  In fact, I would even go as far as to say that it’s actually a damn good film.  If you’re into war films — and, admittedly, I am not — you will love Decision Before Dawn.  If, like me, you’re a history nerd, you’ll be fascinated by the fact that, since this film was shot on location, Decision Before Dawn offers a chance to see what Europe looked like in the years immediately following the destruction of World War II.

As I mentioned, I’m not really into war movies but fortunately, Decision Before Dawn takes place during World War II.  World War II is one of the few wars where there’s no real ambiguity about whether or not the war needed to be fought.  When it comes to picking a villain that everyone can hate, Adolf Hitler and his followers are petty much the perfect villains to go with.

In Decision Before Dawn, Oskar Werner plays Karl Maurer, a German soldier who deserts after his best friend is executed for insubordination.  Though Karl loves his home country, he hates the Nazis who have taken it over.  Karl surrenders to the Americans and volunteers to return to Germany to act as a spy.  Karl finds himself in a strange situation.  Though he’s fighting against the Nazis, he is also mistrusted by the Allies.  He is literally a man without a country.

When word comes down that a German general is willing to surrender, Karl and another German soldier-turned-spy, the greedy and cowardly Sgt. Barth (Hans Christian Bleth), are sent into Germany to both find out if the information is true and to find out where another division of German soldiers is located.  Accompanying the two Germans is a bitter American, Lt. Dick Rennick (Richard Basehart).  Rennick doesn’t trust either of the Germans.

While Rennick and Barth track down the surrendering General, Karl is sent to track down the other division.  Along the way, Karl visits many bombed out German towns and meets Germans of every political persuasion.  Some of them still vainly cling to hope for victory over the Allies but the majority of them are like Hilde (Hildegard Knef), a young war widow who just desperately wants the fighting to end.  Thanks to the deeply empathetic performances of Werner and Knef, the scenes between Hilde and Karl elevate the entire film.  In those scenes, Decision Before Dawn becomes more than just a war film.  It becomes a portrait of men and women trapped by circumstances that they cannot control.

Decision Before Dawn is an exciting and well-acted thriller, one that starts slow but then builds up to a truly thrilling conclusion.  Anatole Litvak directs the film almost as if it were a film noir, filling the entire screen with menacing shadows and moody set pieces.  Decision Before Dawn is a war film that does not celebrate war but instead mourns the evil that men do and argues that sometimes the most patriotic thing that one can do is defy his or her government.  It may be one of the more obscure best picture nominees but it’s still one that deserves to be rediscovered.

By the way, if you do watch Decision Before Dawn, be sure to keep an eye out for Klaus Kinski.  He only appears for a minute or two and he’s not even credited but you’ll recognize him as soon as you see him.  The eyes give him away as soon as he shows up.

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4 Shots From 4 Films: Gone With The Wind, The Snake Pit, Lady In A Cage, The Swarm


Olivia De Havilland and Friends

Olivia De Havilland and Friends

I hope that you will join us all in wishing a happy birthday to the wonderful and legendary Olivia De Havilland, who turns 100 years old today!  Not only is Olivia the last surviving cast member of Gone With The Wind but she’s also one of the last surviving stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age!  Not only was she a wonderful actress but Olivia’s rivalry with sister Joan Fontaine continues to be one of the legendary moments of Oscar history!

This edition of 4 Shots From 4 Films features four movies that starred the one and only, Olivia De Havilland!

4 Shots From 4 Films

Gone With The Wind (1939, dir by Victor Fleming)

Gone With The Wind (1939, dir by Victor Fleming)

The Snake Pit (1948, dirby Anatole Litvak)

The Snake Pit (1948, dir by Anatole Litvak)

Lady in a Cage (1964, dir by Walter Grauman)

Lady in a Cage (1964, dir by Walter Grauman)

The Swarm (1978, dir by Irwin Allen)

The Swarm (1978, dir by Irwin Allen)

By the way, do you know who shares a birthday with Olivia De Havilland?  OUR VERY OWN PATRICK SMITH!  Happy birthday, Pat!!!!!!